The White House has called for all American companies to have their employee resource groups (ERGs) start in-house campaigns to educate employees and provide them with tools to combat antisemitism. In response, Equinix’s faith-based ERG, FaithConnect, organized and moderated a panel with Google and the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation (RFBF) that explored the problems and solutions to what RFBF President Dr. Brian Grim called “the canary in the coal mine,” religious discrimination.
Marsie Sweetland, founder of FaithConnect, opened and moderated the hour-long presentation consisting of two speakers followed by a Q & A. Sweetland, in her opening remarks, related how reading dozens of testimonies of Holocaust survivors impacted her. Though she is not Jewish, Sweetland has found that the three pillars of FaithConnect—Invite, Learn and Respect—when intelligently and sincerely applied, can go far in vanquishing religious intolerance.
Dr. Grim, the first speaker, built on Sweetland’s point: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be concerned about this,” he said. “Whenever a religious minority is being discriminated against, it’s like the canary in the coal mine. Because then it’s open season on ALL religions.”
“This is not a fringe issue. … It’s something that affects all of us.”
Dr. Grim had earlier elaborated on the canary in the coal mine analogy in an RFBF newsletter article published this spring, writing that “everyone is a canary somewhere—we must defend the religious freedoms of every group, from Adventists, Ahmadi Muslims and atheists to Sikhs and Scientologists, all the way to Zoroastrians! And at this moment in time, the significant rising tide of bias and discrimination toward the U.S. Jewish community documented empirically by the FBI and ADL makes them today’s canaries.”
The RFBF—an organization focused on workplace religious diversity, equity and inclusion—was contacted by the White House on the question of how to help businesses better inform their workforces and stakeholders about the rise in antisemitism and how to combat it. Grim, speaking from the G20 faith summit in India, cited the absence of antisemitism in that nation as evidence that, “antisemitism is not necessarily the default stance in a country.”
Introducing keynote speaker Naomi Kraus, Grim added, “This is not a fringe issue. It’s not something that some of us should be concerned about, but it’s the first time a national strategy has been developed to combat antisemitism and all forms of religious intolerance and bias, including Islamophobia—including even anti-Christian sentiments. It’s something that affects all of us.”
Kraus, an Orthodox Jew and granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors, is the founding member and current global chair of Google’s Inter Belief Network (IBN) employee resource group. She spoke on how ERGs build religious freedom for everyone by attacking antisemitism and all forms of religious bias and discrimination.
Kraus outlined the challenges faced by employees of faith and how ERGs can help reduce ignorance and often unintended exclusion.
From her position as global lead of the “Jewglers” (Jewish Google employees), Kraus has observed that it’s hard to bring 100 percent of yourself to the office. One in three employees report experiencing some religious bias in the workplace, she said, “and that number climbs depending on what faith you happen to practice. And if you go outside the United States, the situation is going to be similar.”
“Antisemitic tropes are everywhere, so it’s no surprise that they’re going to get into the office.”
Having spoken to Jewish ERG leaders in a crosssection of American industries, Kraus said that one-third thought that workplace antisemitism was commonplace.
“And here’s the kicker: 25 percent of those managers were less likely to move ahead with a Jewish candidate,” she said. “Many also admitted to holding antisemitic biases about Jews and wealth and power. Antisemitic tropes are everywhere, so it’s no surprise that they’re going to get into the office.”
Gesturing at a bar graph showing skyrocketing antisemitic hate crimes, Kraus said, “These figures that you see here are from the Anti-Defamation League. Let’s also remember that Jews don’t even number 16 million people globally. We are at a mere 0.2 percent of the of the entire world’s population. There are not that many of us. Hating on us, though, is very popular.”
Kraus pointed to the timing of this event as most appropriate—the dawn of the Jewish High Holy Day season, the most heavily attended time of year for synagogues. Jews who don’t normally attend synagogue will encounter a few unexpected things, she said. “High-tech alarm systems. Armed guards. Concrete barriers. Bulletproof glass. Unmarked buildings. And in some cases, the need to pre-register to even get close to a synagogue. That isn’t unique. This is everyday life for many—if not most—Jews in the world today.”
But while acknowledging that Jews are the most targeted religious group in America by an overwhelming margin, Kraus emphasized that they are far from the only ones, citing mosque burnings in Minnesota and Christian school shootings in the South. “I’ve had to send condolences and offer sympathies way, way too many times.”
“It is incredibly hard to hate someone who you know.”
Turning to solutions—and specifically what employee resource groups can do—Kraus said, “Let’s start with getting employees in the door.” Many recruitment events are scheduled on weekends, for example, but many people of faith cannot attend at those times because of their religious practices, she explained. Likewise, scheduling recruiting events and job fairs on religious holidays for some also precludes attendance and thus an unintended exclusion occurs.
The simple solution, of course, then, would be to avoid holding recruitment events on the weekends or on religious holidays when certain people of faith wouldn’t be able to attend.
Kraus also shared that ERGs can educate employees about various faiths in order to puncture stereotypes and other harmful impressions, emphasizing that the benefits of non-bias education extend well beyond the religious group or groups affected.
“Our recent study by the nonprofit Reality Check Research showed that Holocaust education doesn’t actually just reduce hate against Jews, it does so against other minority groups as well,” she said.
Moreover, Kraus said that having members of a community tell their own stories is powerful and that “it is incredibly hard to hate someone who you know.”
The benefits of an enlightened approach to employees of faith also manifest in a company’s bottom line because inclusion breeds a feeling of stability for the employee, as well as pride in his or her company, which in turn lowers employee turnover, thus easing the pressure on recruitment.
Kraus then fielded questions chosen by Sweetland, one of which requested advice for employees reluctant to share their Jewish faith in the workplace. “I know Jews at many companies who are not ‘out,’” she began. “That has to do with the landscape across what I’ve just shared from a company perspective. Do I blame them for that? I do not. Do I wish things were different? I’m trying my best, and I speak at events like this in order to actually hope for a day when that doesn’t have to happen.”
The best solution is for people who are not Jewish to speak up for the Jewish community, she explained. Citing an op-ed written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in support of Jews, Kraus said, “It is 80 times more powerful to have someone who is not a member of the community stand up and say, ‘This is not acceptable. This is not right. There is no reason for this.’
“Religion is often spoken of more as a problem to be solved rather than as something to be embraced. And it really should be embraced by the business community. You’ve got 5.5 billion users and potential customers out there.”